Every year we hear about the latest technologies in the world. From Silicon Valley especially, the latest tech trend is always in tow on the most prominent news channels. These trends, though, or at least the ones that are the most popular, do not usually revolve around solving humanitarian problems. Let’s face it, these are not necessarily the cash cow technologies. But, with all technological advancements the world has seen in the 21st century, it begs the question – when 1 in 9 people on the planet still do not have direct access to safe drinking water, where are the overt efforts to solve this problem? Granted, this is not an easy fix issue, and the stakes are much higher than finding the next Facebook or developing the coolest new phone. Also, the reasons for aforementioned statistics vary between poverty, droughts, and irresponsible irrigation systems that affect future supplies.
So, how is technology world working to solve humanity’s problem of water shortages? Usually unsung heroes, engineers and others around the globe have been over the years developing a wide array of devices, large and small, that generate or improve access to clean water. Each year, a slew of innovations aim to make the process of reaching clean water easier, cheaper, more sustainable and more portable. Additionally, these efforts look to produce a yield high enough to make a real impact for some of the 844 million people worldwide who suffer from lack of clean water.
From the most basic technologies seen for years, to the most cutting edge solutions, engineers have leaned on creative ideas such as using condensation methods to pull water from thin air, using solar energy in the processes, turning salty seawater into fresh water. There has also been the option of tackling the problem not from the providing, but from the prevention side like developing methods of monitoring water usage and reducing waste.
Warka Water, for example, is harnessing drinkable water literally out of thin air. It uses a water trapping system that produces clean water by harvesting rain, mist and even just condensation. To build the structure that can achieve this, the team wanted to focus on sustainability and cost by using low-cost, locally sourced materials. Inspiration rose from surrounding nature, like termite hives and cactus spines, and thus they created their natural water catching tower. A Warka Water structure is held up primarily by a bamboo frame that encases a water tank, but other materials used include ropes, a canopy and recycled mesh. The whole structure takes six people and 4 days of work to assemble. A great example of effective, low cost, kind-to-the-planet solution for the issue at hand.
Solwa Technologies, has also a brand new model of tackling water access by using solar energy. Solwa is an active solar container with the capability to treat the majority of polluted waters, using solar radiation. Through the process of condensation, Solwa separates pollutants from pure water, with the entire process being powered by solar energy, and without relying on any external or conventional sources of energy, being able to produce upwards of 8 liters of drinking water per day. To boost, it requires no operating costs. A solution that will likely see their operation scale.
One usually thinks of water filtration systems as large scale initiatives by tapping the original source. A very innovative technology has now turned that on its head – WATERisLIFE has designed individual water purification straws. Inside every straw, there are membranes, iodized crystals, and active carbon, which removes the iodine taste and medium size bacteria. The technology protects against such ailments as waterborne bacteria and viruses like typhoid, cholera, E. coli, dysentery and diarrhea. The smaller filters use new groundbreaking technology to cover a broader range of contaminants than other technologies. Additionally, these filters deal with heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and aluminum, arsenic, fluoride, chlorine, cadmium, giardia, E Coli, algae, hydrogen sulfide, cholera, and typhoid. And this is just one of their products.
On the other end of that spectrum is The Pipe, a giant, floating desalination device, designed to be both an artistic landmark and a way to provide California with a new source of clean water. The project was a finalist for the Land Art Generator Initiative biennial design competition in 2016, which asked teams to envision innovative, site-specific public art projects that can harness clean energy and convert it into electricity or drinking water – quite the task. On its exterior, the 2000-foot-long Pipe is coated in high-tech, satellite-grade solar panels, which harvest power throughout the day. The energy that the panels gather would be used to take in seawater and pump it through an electromagnetic filtration tube hidden on the underside of the floating platform. Likely one of the most ingenious uses of technology, art and solution oriented design.
Needless to say, technology is the main driver of today’s advancements, scientific or otherwise. Let us for one moment, imagine what could be possible if the world applied the same level of skill, creativity, resources and knowledge, at the same speed of our biggest tech giants into these solutions. Go ahead, give it a try. Why not encourage our biggest companies to do just that, and not as simple CSR campaigns to greenwash their brands? Let’s apply technology tools like hackathons and lab days and rapid prototyping toward solving social and environmental issues.
It is about time we shift into a higher gear and start putting technology to its full use in solving the world’s most pressing problems – and at the forefront of these is clean water.
Water is life. Let’s treat it as such.